The 12 Ways of Christmas: wrapping

[Part 9]

We should have owned stock in 3M.

Dad always waited until Christmas Eve or, maybe if he was especially good, the day before, to wrap presents. He’d box everything up in the bedroom and drag it out to the kitchen table to wrap it up. Every box had a label in his own shorthand: the name of one of us and some code to help him remember what it was.

He had a fondness for putting boxes inside of other boxes to disguise the gifts, so we never knew what he had. And if it was the sort of box that could not be disguised, we’d hear from down the hall as he bounded toward the kitchen, “You kids’d better keep your eyes closed, dammit, or this it going right back to the store!”

Sometimes I’d be permitted to help him. He was very particular, so sometimes he didn’t want help. Usually I had something of my own to wrap, and as he had all the paper and supplies, it made sense to join him.

My dad always claimed he could match the pattern at the edge of the paper to the pattern on the side he was taping it to. That way the pattern wasn’t interrupted st the joint. It was a nice thought, but I never quite believed him. It just wasn’t possible unless the packages were the perfect circumference. Right? But he insisted. And I didn’t want to go through the trouble of proving anything. I know he took immense pride in his wrapping.

What he was really saying was that it mattered to him—a lot—that we all appreciate what he was doing. He wanted us to understand the work and care and effort, but also to marvel at the ease with which carried it all off. And I had no reason to discredit him.

He made a policy of using as much tape as possible. Every top was taped to every bottom in at least one place on all four sides. Every flap of wrapping paper was taped down. A typical gift would require 16 pieces of tape to box and wrap.

I approached things differently. First, I never taped the lids on because it was annoying as hell to sit there struggling with the box, ripping the cardboard like some kind of savage, or a wild raccoon, sucking on a paper cut—or worse, cutting yourself under the fingernail—looking in all directions to see where that damn butter knife (or nail file or screwdriver or ring of keys) went.

With a little judiciousness, and the right shape, I could box and wrap a gift in as few as three pieces of tape. 3M stockholders were not among my biggest fans, I’m sure.

But my dad especially loved to torture us with scotch tape.

“You kids open it all up so damn fast, it just goes by so fast,” he said. “I like to watch you open it. So sue me if I try to make it last a little longer.”

To get on his good side, I tried to open everything so slowly and carefully that the paper would come off in one solid, undamaged piece. I was the Houdini of wrapping paper. And when my dad’s patience was well and truly tried, I’d kick it up a notch and tear through the next one.


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the untallied hours

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